Ariel Sharon and Stalin

Howie Chodos howie at
Tue Mar 21 09:46:59 MST 1995

"wpc" on Tuesday, March 21

>Had it just been Stalin, the answer that Russia's cultural and
>economic backwardness was the main culprit might have more credibility. But
>there was also Pol Pot, and Enver Hoxha, and Erich Honecker, and Jaruzelski,
>and Ceaucescu.
>Are these people comparable in any sense other than
>having been heads of government?

I am sure that we could argue long and hard about the relative merits and
demerits of the leaders of revolutions, armies and states that have taken
inspiration in one form or another from Marxist writings. I am sure we all
have those whom we consider to be better than others. I am sure that there
is something to be said in the defense of most of them. One traditional, and
not entirely far-fetched, defense of Stalin was that his far-sighted (if a
bit brutal on the side) policies of collectivisation and industrialisation
were what allowed the Soviet Union to withstand the Nazi juggernaut.
Certainly this aspect of his legacy is not entirely forgotten amongst many
contemporary Russians contemplating the disintegration of their new
market-driven society.

It is also possible that I did not select the best examples in my list. I
left off a number who would certainly rank high on other's lists, such as
Mao or Kim Il Sung. There are also some legacies of state leaders that many
people might still consider to be more positive than negative (including
perhaps those of Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Tito). There are also still
Marxists involved in major projects of social transition whose wisdom and
courage continue to inspire, and I am thinking here, for example, of the
late Joe Slovo.

My point in the previous post was that we are caught in the dilemma of
having to understand and explain the twin legacy of the Marxist tradition as
it came to be practised around the world. On the one hand, Marxism has
always embodied a desire for liberation from oppression and exploitation,
and it has been able to articulate a compelling case for the need to move
beyond capitalism if this goal is ever to be realised for the vast majority
of humanity. On the other hand, the practice of the abolition of capitalism
carried out in its name has been far from a smashing success. And this
despite the fairly wide variety of circumstances under which it was
implemented (although, to rehearse what has become a truism, never in quite
the way that Marx originally envisaged; but that in itself poses another
series of questions that have no easy answers).

In just about every case where a break from capitalism was tried, of course,
there were "objective" difficulties ranging from invasion, through
subversion, blockades and boycotts, to a legacy of extreme economic
disadvantage. These imposed great hardships on the peoples involved, whose
usual response has been (and often continues to be) heroic resistance and
determination to build their own future free from outside interference. In
many cases one could attribute specific failings of individual regimes to
making a virtue out of necessity. As some accounts would have it (and I
simplify greatly, of course), the horrors of the civil war in the Soviet
Union produced the Cheka, the suppression of debates in the party, and so
on, which laid the cornerstone for future developments, which in turn
ultimately led to Stalinism.

While I do not wish to minimise the importance of careful and detailed
historical examination of the circumstances of each and every revolutionary
movement that took inspiration from Marxism, it also seems to me that we
mustn't lose sight of the "big picture" either. Different revolutionary
movements each bore a relationship not only to their own particular past but
also to the Marxist tradition as a whole. As I suggested in the last post by
way of illustration, they almost all sought to implement strategies based on
notions of "the dictatorship of the proletariat", whether or not there was a
proletariat of any significance in their respective countries. One can say
that this was a mistaken strategy, but it seems to me that one should then
be open to questioning the universalism that was present in the Marxist
understanding that held that working class revolution was the ticket to the
liberation of humanity.

My answer to the question posed in response to my post "Are these people
comparable in any sense other than having been heads of government?", is
that (as far as I know) they all thought of themselves as Marxists, in the
same sense that I think of myself as one. And I worry about what this means.
It was this that I was trying to get at with my symbolic listing of an
otherwise disparate group of leaders.

Howie Chodos

The details of "wpc"s post:

>Pol Pot was head of a regime that must be unique in
>the proportion of the population it massacred - doing
>so in the service of an aggressive nationalist
>ideology and a program de-urbanisation. The whole
>thing was very un-Stalinist in ideology and
>economics and the country was eventually liberated
>from him by the Stalinist Vietnamese communists.
>Hoxha was an avowed Stalinist as to a lesser extent
>were Hoeneker and Ceaucescu but are you seriously
>suggesting that they all engaged in purges and
>executions of opponents on the scale that
>Stalin or Pol Pot. It seems to me that in so
>labeling Hoeneker you are joining in with the
>attempt by the 4th Reich to criminalise all
>German communists.
>Hoeneker's 'crime' was to defend the German workers
>state against a renaisant German imperialism.
>The shootings on the wall are a drop in the ocean
>compared to those 'shot resisting arrest' by US
>or BRD police.
>Jaruzelski was not even the civilian party leader,
>but a general to took over to forestall a possible
>Russian intervention, and as military dictators go,
>his rule was one of the least bloody in history.

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